Schools are important part of a city’s infrastructure

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

For many reasons, the March elections are important both nationally and locally. The only local tax issue we are being asked to decide is the 7.3 mill emergency operating levy for Sidney City Schools. The levy will generate $3.5 million for district operations. The levy is essential for the schools to maintain instruction, student programs, educational services, and support services at current levels.

Through solid financial decisions and actively managing the ever-increasing cost of education and student services, the district has been able to maintain a positive cash balance. In part, that was due to the renewal of the levy two years ago. School leaders knew at the time that the renewal would not be enough over the long haul, and told voters that at the time. That is why the board voted to ask for additional money now.

It is important to note that the leadership of Sidney City Schools has not asked for additional moneys since 2009. During that time, even if your home has been revaluated at a higher level, your taxes have not increased. This is due to the inflationary factor that the Ohio General Assembly enacted some years ago that maintains the taxing level at the same point throughout the life of the levy. I would point out that in the past decade, inflation has increased an average of 2.1% per year, or about 21% over the past decade.

In addition to inflation, increased school security, state-mandated programs, special education, preschool, and changes in how schools are funded have continued to tighten the school’s budget. Changes initiated by Superintendent Bob Humble and Treasurer Mike Watkins and endorsed by the School Board have helped, but only postponed the inevitable.

When I first served on City Council (1977), Sidney had the highest per capita unemployment rate in the State of Ohio. When I left office (1989), we had turned that around and Sidney had the lowest unemployment rate in the state of Ohio. It was the result of a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people. It involved the recruitment of a number of companies who moved operations into the community providing employment. Most of those companies are still here – still providing good jobs. So many in fact, that Sidney imports more than 5,000 people each and every day to fill those jobs.

As I spoke to potential employers during those years, they would always ask about the quality of the schools in the community. The question was always one of the top three questions asked, and sometimes it was the only question asked. Potential employers wanted to ensure that their own children as well as the children of those they would recruit to work for them would have the opportunity to receive a quality education.

I think it is important for voters to recognize that schools are an essential part of the community’s infrastructure. While we usually think of infrastructure as streets, bridges, water lines, sanitary sewer lines, storm sewers, parks and emergency services, we need to understand that the quality of our schools impacts the quality of life in our community.

Just something as simple as a water main break can paralyze a city like Houston, Texas (the country’s fourth largest city), an underfunded school system can devastate a community. If you look at communities that are growing, they are communities with solid school support.

Emerson recently committed to investing more than $100 million in their Sidney facility. Cargill has committed to investing $225 million in their facility. The downtown is in the early stages of a renaissance, with Murphy’s Craft Bar + Kitchen at the forefront of that change.

The city has recently submitted a grant application for funding for the next phase of the Canal Feeder Trail. Cargill and Emerson provided the funds necessary for the grant’s local match. The City of Sidney has also budgeted money for the project and we are hopeful that the grant ($750 thousand) will be awarded so that we can complete the next phase of the trail.

We have forward momentum, and we need to continue that momentum. As we look forward to continuing to grow the community, the quality of our schools remains essential. I’m often asked why one nearby city or another has something we don’t have. It nearly always comes down to the level the voters in those communities are willing to support the tax issues necessary to support amenities, including well-funded schools.

We are fortunate that those who look at Sidney have educational options. Sidney has good public, private and parochial options. We need to do our part in supporting those options, as each of them is an inducement to growth.

Sidney’s City Council is unanimous in our support for the Sidney City School’s levy. Your “YES” vote will help continue to move Sidney forward.

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.

The writer is the mayor of Sidney.